Also today: Let them eat cake: China’s Harare embassy throws Mugabe birthday bash; Libyans march Swiss businessman off to jail; Guineans need cash to hold election; Niger’s coup leaders make all the right democratic noises; Eritreans around the world demonstrate against sanctions.
Fresh round of protests rock Ivory Coast
Days after the military killed at least five protesters at a rally in Ivory Coast, demonstrators marched and pelted soldiers and police with stones in response to President Laurent Gbagbo’s dissolving of both government and the country’s electoral commission. Gbagbo says non-Ivorian citizens were being added to the electoral register, but his action has further delayed an election meant to reunite the nation after a 2002/03 civil war split the country into north and south. The election has been repeatedly put off since 2005, and critics say Gbabgo is trying to excise those who might vote against him. Many Ivorians are descendants of settlers from neighbouring countries, creating ethnic tensions that fuelled the civil war.
Photo: Opposition protesters demonstrate with a banner that reads “Gbagbo thief” on a street in Toumodi, central Ivory Coast February 22, 2010. Protests have erupted almost daily in the world’s top cocoa grower since President Laurent Gbagbo dissolved his government and the electoral commission on Feb. 12, and the military killed at least five protesters at a rally on Friday. REUTERS/Luc Gnago
Let them eat cake: China’s Harare embassy throws Mugabe birthday bash
To make sure that Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe keeps looking East, the Chinese embassy in Harare threw a party to celebrate his 86th birthday, according to Reuters. Mugabe pitched up to cut cake and Zimbabwean officials said it was the first time he’d visited a foreign mission since independence in 1980. So, if that’s a sign of favouritism, it’s pretty much unprecedented. Zimbabwe’s foreign minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi is due to visit China later this month. Mugabe has tried to boost economic ties with Asian countries, after the West slapped sanctions on him and his cronies for confiscating white farms. China has invested heavily in African infrastructure in return for mining rights. It must irk both Mugabe and the Chinese that Zimbabwe’s mineral assets are already spoken for by Western imperialists, because there’s not much else to procure.
Libyans march Swiss businessman off to jail
A Swiss businessman who faces four months in a Libyan jail for immigration and business offences has left the shelter of Tripoli’s Swiss embassy in handcuffs. Max Goeldi’s initial 16-month sentence was recently reduced on appeal, while a second Swiss national, Rachid Hamdani, convicted of the same offences, has been allowed to leave the country. The case against the two men is widely believed to be payback for the arrest of one of Gaddafi’s sons in Geneva, on charges of abusing two domestic helpers. The charges were later dropped. The Swiss president controversially apologised to the Libyans at the time, and Switzerland’s government later banned 188 Libyan officials from entering their country – including Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and his family. The Libyans have now stopped issuing visas to citizens of the Schengen group nations in Europe, causing the Swiss mighty embarrassment among their peers. And by releasing Hamdani, while stepping up pressure on Goeldi, they’ve further increased diplomatic tensions.
Guineans need cash to hold election
Guinea’s new military-appointed civilian Prime Minister Jean-Marie Dore, told the BBC the country urgently needs funds to prepare for a June election. The world at large would be wise to stump up, as the polls are part of a deal to return the nation to civilian rule after a December 2008 coup. Since then, troops massacred some 150 civilians during protests against military rule, and junta leader Captain Moussa Dadis Camara was subsequently shot in the head by an aide, prompting crisis talks in which the army agreed to organise elections within six months. The UN, EU and regional west African group Ecowas, are seeking ways to organise a credible poll. Giving the Guineans some money might help.
Niger’s coup leaders make all the right democratic noises
The leaders of the military coup in Niger say they’ll draft a new constitution and hold elections on some unspecified date, three days after overthrowing President Mamadou Tandja. They say Tandja’s being held in some comfort in the capital, Niamey, after they ousted him for extending his 10-year rule by another five years. It’s the third coup in West Africa in the past 18 months – including those in Mauritania and Guinea – so delegations from the UN and west African regional body, Ecowas, are being kept extremely busy. The military’s obliquely-named Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy has promised to turn Niger into an example of freedom and good governance, saying a new constitution will replace the one amended by Tandja in August, which abolished presidential term limits.
Eritreans around the world demonstrate against sanctions
Eritreans in Australia, Switzerland, the UK and US have launched coordinated protests against UN sanctions on their country. First off, one wonders why they’re not living in Eritrea themselves, after the world body slapped an arms embargo on Asmara and imposed travel bans and asset freezes on senior government officials. They say the sanctions are illegal and an insult to their nation, but the misplaced nationalism sounds more like somebody’s paying them to make a noise. The UN, US and UK say Eritrea supports radical Islamist rebels in its chaotic neighbour, Somalia, a claim the government dismisses with contempt. But the UN sanctions are backed by Eritrea’s neighbours and also the African Union, so it doesn’t have much wriggle-room. One Eritrean rights worker said the demonstrators were told they wouldn’t be considered Eritrean if they didn’t take part in the protests. Many Eritreans are economic refugees, and obviously hanker for their homeland. But it’s odd that others living abroad would care about that, as many have good reason to want to leave the brutal regime in Eritrea far behind them.
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